Comparing sizes of the armies of the medieval East and West

Jan 2016
1,637
India
One notes that in the medieval battles of Western Europe, even an army of 10,000 size was considered big, while in the East battles were fought with usually much larger armies.
In case of India, for example, we read accounts of much larger armies coming out of kingdoms which were much smaller than say France of 100 years war era and equally feudal/decentralised. France had a population of almost 20 million in the 15th century, while kingdoms with much smaller populations in the East could field more men than France usually did. For this reason, the population or the feudalism arguments do not sound convincing to me.

What do you think, is the reason behind this?
 
Last edited:

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,017
Italy, Lago Maggiore
I would keep in the right consideration the feudal context. The absence of a wide centralized organization made it difficult to gather and manage the large armies of the Roman age. That context didn't allow the collection of great resources for wars in a little time.
 

Frank81

Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
5,087
Canary Islands-Spain
It is a matter of criticism.

Numbers coming from India and other areas need to be subjected to hard criticism, as ancient and medieval European-Middle East numbers have been since 1950.

In regard to non western countries, it is pretty common to throw numbers directly taken from ancient chronicles. It's responsability of Indian, Cambodian, Korean historians etc to take a more critic approach to chronicles.

If we take original Western accounts literally, in the Battle of Tours (732), there were 75,000 Frankish men and 400,000 Umayyad Arabs, 100,000 Frenchmen at Crecy, 187,000 Arabs in Covadonga, in Las Navas de Tolosa 185,000 Christians and 600,000 Muslims...

This is no sense, and so after careful study of logistics and really available manpower the numbers has been scaled down.
 
Jan 2016
1,637
India
I would keep in the right consideration the feudal context. The absence of a wide centralized organization made it difficult to gather and manage the large armies of the Roman age. That context didn't allow the collection of great resources for wars in a little time.
But kingdoms in many other parts of the world were no less feudal, and we read accounts of larger armies coming from them.

It is a matter of criticism.

Numbers coming from India and other areas need to be subjected to hard criticism, as ancient and medieval European-Middle East numbers have been since 1950.

In regard to non western countries, it is pretty common to throw numbers directly taken from ancient chronicles. It's responsability of Indian, Cambodian, Korean historians etc to take a more critic approach to chronicles.

If we take original Western accounts literally, in the Battle of Tours (732), there were 75,000 Frankish men and 400,000 Umayyad Arabs, 100,000 Frenchmen at Crecy, 187,000 Arabs in Covadonga, in Las Navas de Tolosa 185,000 Christians and 600,000 Muslims...

This is no sense, and so after careful study of logistics and really available manpower the numbers has been scaled down.
I agree with you. Most numbers from Indian and later the Muslim sources are indeed wildly exaggerated and are very sketchy. But when more than one sources tell us similar numbers, then their claims must be true to some degree.

For example, the medieval kingdom of Vijayanagara is said to have fielded more than 200k men by both European and Persian-language sources. Many battles that are contemporary of it, speak of similar numbers of men. No matter how skeptic you are, you can not scale down a number of 200k which is claimed to be true by multiple sources, to mere 7 or 8 thousand.
But in Western Europe, the number around 7-8000 was the norm, which was indeed very small when compared to the rest of the world. Not only in India but in Central Asia and rest of the Muslim world and even Eastern Europe, large armies were very common.

Maybe it's because the on-field battles did not play as decisive a role in the Western Europe as they did in the East, and the warfare was more centered around sieges? and the battles were many in numbers but small scale?
 
Last edited:

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,017
Italy, Lago Maggiore
But kingdoms in many other parts of the world were no less feudal, and we read accounts of larger armies coming from them.


I agree with you. Most numbers from Indian and later the Muslim sources are indeed wildly exaggerated and are very sketchy. But when more than one sources tell us similar numbers, then their claims must be true to some degree.

For example, the medieval kingdom of Vijayanagara is said to have fielded more than 200k men by both European and Persian-language sources. Many battles that are contemporary of it, speak of similar numbers of men. No matter how skeptic you are, you can not scale down a number of 200k which is claimed to be true by multiple sources, to mere 7 or 8 thousand.
But in Western Europe, the number around 7-8000 was the norm, which was indeed very small when compared to the rest of the world. Not only in India but in Central Asia and rest of the Muslim world and even Eastern Europe, large armies were very common.

Maybe it's because the on-field battles did not play as decisive a role in the Western Europe as they did in the East, and the warfare was more centered around sieges? and the battles were many in numbers but small scale?
Also this. King here had to made great effort to build giant armies. Local Lords were busy facing one each other, you know. So wars see many not impressive battles and a few of main battles. An other point: siege based wars with few main battles lasted years or decades ... Or more than a century!
 

Frank81

Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
5,087
Canary Islands-Spain
But kingdoms in many other parts of the world were no less feudal, and we read accounts of larger armies coming from them.


I agree with you. Most numbers from Indian and later the Muslim sources are indeed wildly exaggerated and are very sketchy. But when more than one sources tell us similar numbers, then their claims must be true to some degree.

For example, the medieval kingdom of Vijayanagara is said to have fielded more than 200k men by both European and Persian-language sources. Many battles that are contemporary of it, speak of similar numbers of men. No matter how skeptic you are, you can not scale down a number of 200k which is claimed to be true by multiple sources, to mere 7 or 8 thousand.
But in Western Europe, the number around 7-8000 was the norm, which was indeed very small when compared to the rest of the world. Not only in India but in Central Asia and rest of the Muslim world and even Eastern Europe, large armies were very common.

Maybe it's because the on-field battles did not play as decisive a role in the Western Europe as they did in the East, and the warfare was more centered around sieges? and the battles were many in numbers but small scale?

There is a part on true on this, and the reason is the extreme de-centralization of power and resources management that took place in Western Europe during feudalism. In developed areas of the world, from Egypt to China, centralized states could manage larger amounts of resources and so they could put in the field large armies. Even if there was a kind of feudalism in these other areas, it is clear that bureaucratic states were more developed than in Western Europe. So, medieval European organization was based on a very inefficient and small amount of territory, which led to smaller armies. This was not the case of the Carolingian Empire, a kind of centralized state able to movilize large amount of troops and resources in the eastern way.

On the other hand, decentralization of authority had its advantages: quick response to threats is more effective, and the falling or conquest of one feudal lord "capital" or territory had a low impact over the rest of the kingdom. This was a response of Western Europeans to the massive attacks suffered during the 9-10th century from Vikings, Arabs and Magyars. On the opposite, in centralized states, the seizure of the King, or the falling of the capital and its bureaucracy means that a short campaign was enough to conquer large territories.

There is also another reason: European and Maghreb agriculture centered around wheat is less productive per hectare than in irrigated Middle East, India or China. So there's more food available in these other areas, which allows the building up of larger armies.

Again, there's a part of good in this story for Europe, since during an invasion the less food, the more difficult to invade.
 
Last edited:
Mar 2014
8,881
Canterbury
Partly, lies. Western scholarship (in the English language) has thoroughly-trounced unreliable and plainly ridiculous sources on western history; it's yet to get round to obvious exaggerations in the east.
 
Jan 2016
1,637
India
There is a part on true on this, and the reason is the extreme de-centralization of power and resources management that took place in Western Europe during feudalism. In developed areas of the world, from Egypt to China, centralized states could manage larger amounts of resources and so they could put in the field large armies. Even if there was a kind of feudalism in these other areas, it is clear that bureaucratic states were more developed than in Western Europe. So, medieval European organization was based on a very inefficient and small amount of territory, which led to smaller armies. This was not the case of the Carolingian Empire, a kind of centralized state able to movilize large amount of troops and resources in the eastern way.
I mostly agree with you. What do you think about Eastern Europe? Were they equally decentralised?
On the other hand, decentralization of authority had its advantages: quick response to threats is more effective, and the falling or conquest of one feudal lord "capital" or territory had a low impact over the rest of the kingdom. This was a response of Western Europeans to the massive attacks suffered during the 9-10th century from Vikings, Arabs and Magyars. On the opposite, in centralized states, the seizure of the King, or the falling of the capital and its bureaucracy means that a short campaign was enough to conquer large territories.
It's a very good point.
The decentralised states usually fragmented into many small states when they were defeated and each state then would have to be conquered one by one, while the centralised states were thoroughly conquered in a handful of campaigns. An example can be seen in the Arab conquest of Persia which lasted a few decades, while it took centuries to gain hold of more decentralised and fragmented North India by the Turko-Afghans.
Partly, lies. Western scholarship (in the English language) has thoroughly-trounced unreliable and plainly ridiculous sources on western history; it's yet to get round to obvious exaggerations in the east.
So the armies described in the original Western accounts are similar in number to those in the Eastern accounts?
 
Last edited:
Jan 2016
1,637
India
Also this. King here had to made great effort to build giant armies. Local Lords were busy facing one each other, you know. So wars see many not impressive battles and a few of main battles. An other point: siege based wars with few main battles lasted years or decades ... Or more than a century!
Indeed, century-long wars are almost unheard of in Eastern Europe and Asia, but not in Western Europe. W.European warfare seems to be very distinct from others in terms of it's nature.
 
Last edited: